We can either pursue our goals sustainably by accepting that we can have everything in life we want, just not at the same time or proceed in an unsustainable way and burn out, warns Uche Ezichi
I almost lost my mind in April 2017 when I burnt out and lost the will to do anything. At the peak of my burnout, I was depressed and unable to accomplish little things such as brushing my teeth. One day, my wife shook me vigorously to wake me up. She had a look of pure horror on her face and explained that I was having a nightmare because – between frantic gasps –I kept yelling: ‘I can’t go crazy, I can’t go crazy, please don’t let me lose my mind!’
It wasn’t a nightmare; it really felt like I was losing my mind. For the first time in my life, I realised how easily a person who seemed fine could end up in a psychiatry ward.
I burnt out because, for years, I kept a crazy schedule and pursued my goals in an unsustainable way. In hindsight, the warning signs were there, but I ignored them because, unfortunately, I wasn’t in control of my goals. Instead, they controlled me. I kept lying to myself that if I pressed a little harder for a little longer, I would eventually achieve a big enough goal and give my body the rest it needed. Then I crashed. The truth is we never know where our tipping point is. It comes suddenly, so the best way to achieve our goals and live successfully is to approach life sustainably.
The good news is that I burnt out, so you don’t have to. If you are on the verge of burnout, be encouraged, you can make the necessary changes today, so you don’t have to go over the edge. I am enjoying much more financial success now, even though I don’t work as hard as I did when I burnt out. I am happier, healthier, and have more fulfilling relationships with friends and family. Let’s explore how to keep burnout at bay whilst achieving your goals and living your dream sustainably.
The first step is to count the cost. We fail to realise our full potential when we underestimate the cost. I use HEART as an acronym to remember the costs because to achieve your dream; your HEART has to be in it for the long haul. In the beginning, through the middle, all the way to the end. HEART stands for heath, emotional, affordability (financial), relationship and time costs.
Health: Regardless of how healthy we are, if we do not pace ourselves in pursuit of our goals, we end up placing unhealthy demands on our bodies. In extreme cases, these can result in challenges that can kill us.
Emotional: The emotional cost of pursuing dreams is possibly the most underappreciated of the five costs. You will experience rejection, failure, disappointment, and crushing lows on your journey to your goals. Our emotional strength runs dry without a big WHY and the correct input from helpful resources such as books and confidants.
Affordability: Do you understand how much your dream will cost you financially. No one can answer this question, but you, although the real question is, are you willing to invest all you have in your goals?
Relationship: Are you willing to let go of relationships to achieve your goal? There are two relationship costs you have to pay. The cost of losing relationships dear to you and drawing on meaningful relationships when struggling.
Time: How long are you willing to wait? The answer for those whose dreams become a reality is ‘as long as it takes’. Your dream won’t come true overnight; it takes time. Consider a woman who finds out she is one month pregnant and gets frustrated a month later, saying she is desperate to give birth. It doesn’t matter how hard she tries; she’ll still have eight months to go. Similarly, there is a period in the pursuit of your dream where it doesn’t matter how bad you want it, how hard you work or how much you push; it’ll take time. One problem for people who give up or burn out is setting unrealistic time scales.
So, how do you pay these costs sustainably?
I developed five unspoken rules that guide me and many other people in living victorious lives sustainably. They will help you pay the costs effectively if obeyed.
1Recognise: There’s a difference between quitting and giving up. Don’t be afraid to quit something for the greater good of your dream, but never give up on your dream. I have quit jobs or projects that were either toxic or which I had outgrown because I knew it was time. Some people feel like quitting is giving up; this is a mistake. For a rocket to keep going higher, it has to drop the weight it no longer needs.
2Realise: Pay close attention to your health and lifestyle. Don’t ignore the warning signs of potential burnout. It’s always better to pause, rest and re-energise than to burn out. One day my wife ran out of fuel on the highway and was luckily able to get to the hard shoulder before the car stopped. She ignored the low fuel warning sign, thinking she would soon get home.
3Rest: Give your spirit, soul and body the rest it needs regularly. A manual gear car needs to use all gears to complete its journey. It shifts to higher gears to go faster but regularly shifts to lower gears to reduce the speed when necessary. In like manner, we can’t go fast all the time. Sometimes we run, sometimes we jog, sometimes we walk, sometimes we crawl, all the while moving forward.
4Review: The fact that you should never give up does not mean that you should not review periodically how things are going and what changes you need to make to keep going higher. I recently stepped down from a prestigious board role as I needed to rebalance my commitments to maintain healthy limits.
5Relaunch: We fulfil our dreams by ROARing towards them. We need to maintain the Right pace on our journey to get to each milestone Ontime whilst maintaining a great Attitude and doing things the Rightway.
It is liberating to be in control of my life, rather than feeling like my goals and other external forces are controlling me. We have a choice to make. We can either pursue our goals sustainably by accepting that we can have everything in life we want, just not at the same time. Or we proceed in an unsustainable way and burn out eventually.
To your success.
Uche Ezichi is an executive coach, speaker and facilitator with extensive experience working in and with FTSE 100 companies and leading business schools worldwide. His new book, Count the Cost: The 5 Unspoken Rules of Sustainable Success, is out now.